Get ahead of Lyme

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Ticks carried by deer cause Lyme Disease. — Photo courtesy of U.S.D.A.

Living on Martha’s Vineyard, we’re conditioned to meticulously check ourselves, our friends, and our kids for ticks. What happens if you find one? What happens if it’s embedded? Dr. Henry Nieder, co-chair of primary care at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, briefed The Times on what to do when you find a tick.

First and foremost, identify it. According to Dr. Nieder, deer ticks are of the most common and urgent concern on Martha’s Vineyard. A nonengorged deer tick is the size of a pencil dot, and an engorged deer tick is the size of a sesame seed. You may also encounter dog ticks on-Island; they are larger in size, and though they do carry some risks, aren’t as likely as deer ticks to cause health issues. Lone Star ticks have also been found on parts of the Vineyard. They have a white dot, or “lone star,” on the center of their back. They are more rarely found across the Vineyard, and health risks are less likely.  

“We want to emphasize the importance of the community being able to recognize the difference between a deer tick, a Lone Star tick, and a dog tick.” Dr. Nieder said. “If you find an embedded deer tick, it’s best to contact a doctor.”

Individuals may contact the hospital’s on-call doctor, or visit the emergency room if they require medical care. A deer tick must be engorged to cause Lyme disease. “Engorged means it’s been on your body for at least 24 hours,” Dr. Nieder said. “If it’s walking on you, that’s not a worry.”

If the bite is of concern, your doctor may administer a prophylactic course of antibiotics.

“We would consider a prophylactic dose of doxycycline,” Dr. Nieder said. If a doctor makes a diagnosis of Lyme disease, he or she will prescribe doxycycline or an alternative antibiotic for 14 to 21 days.

The hospital laboratory performs various testing for suspected Lyme patients. Lab manager Lynn Mercer said there are five main tick-borne bacterial diseases, and the hospital lab can test for two of them — Lyme, and the parasite smear for babesiosis.

“The majority of tests are sent off-Island,” Mercer said. The laboratory partners with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., a world-class reference laboratory.

For further information related to tick-borne diseases, Dr. Nieder recommends the CDC (cdc.gov) or Department of Public Health websites (mass.gov/orgs/department-of-public-health).